Rear Adm. Charles Griffiths
testified he found no evidence
of negligence but believed
corners were cut in haste
By Gregg K. Kakesako
Despite repeatedly laying out concerns about the actions of Navy Cmdr. Scott Waddle, an investigative admiral does not believe the submarine captain acted with criminal negligence.
Families recount Waddle's apology
Sub repair tab put at $2 million
Waddle commended for rescue decision
As Rear Adm. Charles Griffiths, charged with gathering the facts for a Navy court of inquiry, ended four days of testimony yesterday, he said he could find no evidence that the skipper of the USS Greeneville since March 1999 ignored warnings of a collision or acted negligently.
It was the first time the issue of criminal negligence had been raised before the three U.S. admirals conducting a formal investigation into the Feb. 9 collision between the submarine and the Japanese fishing training vessel Ehime Maru. Nine people from the Ehime Maru remain missing.
But even if Griffiths did not believe that Waddle acted negligently, he did testify that his command on the day of the accident was "sloppy" and dangerous, and corners were cut in the haste not to inconvenience his civilian guests.
Following yesterday's session at Pearl Harbor, a tearful Waddle met briefly with some family members of the missing to personally offer his apology.
Waddle had sent all the families letters of apology, but some of them wanted to hear an apology in person. On Wednesday, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer, the Greeneville's executive officer, personally apologized to the Japanese.
The three senior admirals on the inquiry panel are in a fact-finding process that could lead to criminal charges and a court-martial for Waddle, 41, or two other Greeneville officers -- Pfeifer and Lt. j.g. Michael Coen, who was officer of the deck and in charge of the sub at the time of the accident.
Once the court of inquiry is completed, it will submit its findings to Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific Fleet commander. It will be up to Fargo to decide whether to exonerate any of the three officers or anyone else the investigative court could name, or mete out disciplinary actions, ranging from admonishment to a court-martial.
Sub at sea only for civiliansGriffiths, a former submarine commander, reiterated yesterday under questioning that Waddle, a 1981 Naval Academy graduate, could have avoided the collision if more time had been spent in preparing to execute an emergency surfacing maneuver.
That demonstration was performed for 16 civilians, including a Hawaii Kai couple, who were the sole reason the Greeneville was at sea that day.
Waddle's attorney, Charles Gittins, maintains that the crew, especially a key individual, did not adequately keep the commander abreast of the situation.
However, Capt. Thomas Kyle, the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force's training officer, today revealed the presence of a fourth qualified sonar man who inadvertently was in the sonar shack before the collision.
Kyle said he also misread the sonar contact that turned out to be the Ehime Maru.
It previously was reported that there were only three sailors in the sonar shack, one of them a trainee.
But, Kyle said, a qualified sonar man, a trainee and a supervisor were on duty when the fourth man joined them.
"This person came in to pick up his jacket and stood behind the trainee who became engaged with the problem," Kyle said.
The sonar supervisor was not always working because he had the additional duty of escorting the 16 civilians. Kyle reiterated testimony presented earlier this week that the collision could have been avoided had the Greeneville's crew spent more time analyzing the sonar data.
Yesterday, Gittins honed in on Patrick Seacrest, fire control technician of the watch, saying Seacrest was able to detect by sonar that the Ehime Maru was 5,000 yards away and closing.
Seacrest has told National Transportation Safety Board investigators that the 16 civilians, crowded into the Greeneville's control room, prevented him from plotting the Ehime Maru's position on a wall chart.
Asked by Gittins if the accident could have been avoided if Seacrest had provided the information in a timely manner, Griffiths responded, "That one thing would have changed history."
Seacrest's failure to provide that information was "an important omission," he said.
But even with Seacrest's failure to warn the Greeneville's leaders that the Japanese ship was dangerously close, Griffiths said it was Waddle's decision to abbreviate the time spent analyzing surface sonar contacts and the brief period used by Waddle to scan the ocean surface by periscope that created the problem.
Also in court yesterday, one of the court's inquirers -- Rear Adm. David Stone, commander of Cruiser Destroyer Group Five and the Nimitz battle group, challenged statements made by Gittins.
Stone said Gittins said Waddle stressed three command themes: safety, efficiency and backup.
"This in my mind is a crucial aspect of this inquiry, and my point will be that these themes are just words. They are just rhetoric unless they are translated into actions by the commanding officer," Stone said.
'Risk mitigators' existedStone then reiterated discrepancies laid out by Griffiths: key Greeneville personnel left ashore on Feb. 9; an important sonar display unit that was not working; an undermanned sonar department; abbreviated time spent in analyzing sonar data; not raising the submarine high enough to get a good view of the surface by periscope; and not spending enough time on the scope in scanning the horizon.
"These were all risk mitigators that were not fully taken advantage of by the Greeneville," Stone said.
Stone also was bothered that Griffiths' investigation "did not reveal an existence of a command climate where key people stepped forward and stated freely and vocally when they thought improper procedures were being used or safety was being jeopardized."
Finally, Stone took issue with Gittins' contention that Waddle took actions based on his best judgment.
"A CO's (commanding officer) best judgment does not necessarily mean that the action conducted by him was prudent. A CO's best judgment does not necessarily mean the action conducted by him was safe. A CO's best judgment does not necessarily mean the action conducted by him was satisfactory or correct."
He continued, "In peacetime operations where lives are at stake, it is the outcomes based on prudent, safe and correct actions that serve as the basis by which our commanding officers are judged and held accountable."
Vice Adm. John Nathman, president of the inquiry panel, also acknowledged, "There is a lot of conflict for me right now about where this command really was that day.
"We've heard a lot of testimony about the aggressiveness, the knowledge, the forthrightness ... of this commanding officer. But on the other hand, I see things that look like he's violating his own standards."
Family members softened their words toward Navy Cmdr. Scott D. Waddle after his tearful apology yesterday, a day shy of a month after the submarine accident that took the lives of their loved ones.
By Leila Fujimori
It was an apology the Japanese families had long awaited, and one that Waddle's attorney had advised against.
"I realized that Cmdr. Waddle's eyes were filled with tears," said Mikie Nakata, choking with emotion.
Nakata, mother of Jun Nakata, a teacher, patted her eyes dry as her husband, Kazuo, spoke about how he felt empathetic after speaking with Waddle.
"Since I started attending the court of inquiry, I kept thinking Cmdr. Waddle's family members are also victims," Kazuo Nakata said. "I told Cmdr. Waddle, 'Ganbatte' -- 'hang in there' -- for your family. I said, 'You have a wonderful family also.'"
He said Waddle responded with tears, "I understand."
The four remaining family members spoke at a news conference at the Japanese Cultural Center last night after Waddle's apology, which took place in a separate room outside the courtroom of the Navy's court of inquiry at Pearl Harbor.
Miyako Sakashima, mother of a missing high school student, and Kazuteru Segawa, eldest son of a missing crew member, did not comment.
Waddle approached the Nakatas and Sakashimas about 7:45 a.m. yesterday before the court's morning session began and before reporters entered the courtroom. But Kazuo Nakata told Waddle that all the family members ought to be present.
Nakata's wife, who was fatigued, and Ryosuke Terata, father of one of the missing students, who had been making calls to other Japanese families due to arrive March 10, had remained at their hotel yesterday morning but came to Pearl Harbor for the apology.
Terata said Waddle told the families, "All the responsibility is mine." An interpreter added that Waddle had extended his "sincere apology."
But after Waddle apologized, Terata said he was not sure of the exact words he used, but he believes he told the sub captain, "Too late," in his Ehime dialect. "With a forceful tone, I said, 'You should have apologized earlier.'"
Terata, however, said he understood there were circumstances that might have made it difficult for Waddle to do so, and felt sympathy for him.
"Waddle was pitiable," he said.
Kazuo Nakata, too, was moved by Waddle's tears.
Nakata said he realized his purpose in living had been bound with hatred for Waddle. But the apology changed all that.
"My heart became empty, and I cannot think about the rest of the court of inquiry," he said.
Terata said he will no longer push for an apology, but he would like Waddle to apologize to the remaining families in Japan.
Yoshio Mochizuki, Japan's foreign affairs parliamentary secretary, said Waddle asked him to convey his apologies to those in Japan.
The family members stressed that what they want most is to see the Ehime Maru salvaged.
"Until they finish the salvage, our feelings will not change," Kazuo Nakata said.
When asked how they would respond if the incident is judged accidental and not criminal, Terata said he would decide after the decision is made.
Today marks one month since the Feb. 9 accident. But for Terata, time has moved slowly since the loss of his son. "I don't feel as if one month has passed," Terata said with a pained expression. "I cannot change my feelings yet."
The Navy today estimated it will cost $2 million to repair the USS Greeneville, even though there is no structural damage to the 360-foot nuclear attack submarine.
estimated at $2 million
By Gregg K. Kakesako
The Greeneville entered Pearl Harbor Shipyard's dry dock 11 days after it collided with the Ehime Maru Feb. 9, and is expected to remain there until early April.
The Navy said the Greeneville's hull needs to be repainted. Its rudder, which sliced through the Ehime Maru's hull, flooding the vessel, was scarred, and some bolts designed to absorb shock in the rudder assembly need to be replaced.
There also was cosmetic damage, such as scratches on non-pressure hull plating.
Meanwhile, the Navy Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C., has received a briefing from its salvage contractor, Smit-Tak, on the feasibility of raising the Ehime Maru, which sank nine miles south of Diamond Head.
By Monday the Navy hopes to have a recommendation as to whether the 190-foot, 499-ton Ehime Maru can be raised from a depth of 2,003 feet. Officials have said it would be difficult to raise, since the Navy has never salvaged a vessel from that depth.
The Navy has been working with Japanese salvage experts on the feasibility of salvaging the trawler.
Families of the nine missing Ehime Maru crew and students want the vessel raised since they believe it may contain the bodies of the missing.
Kazuko Nakata stared for a long time through his binoculars at the drawing 25 feet away on the wall of the courtroom.
By Gregg K. Kakesako
Intently, he followed the red laser pointer held by Rear Adm. Charles Griffiths as he explained why the USS Greeneville was unable to open the hatch on the sub's main deck to attempt any type of rescue operation nine miles south of Diamond Head a month ago.
His son, Jun, a teacher from Uwajima Fisheries High School, is among the nine still missing.
Through an earpiece in his right ear, Nakata heard Griffiths explain through a translator what happened after the nuclear attack submarine struck the Ehime Maru at 1:43 p.m. Feb. 9 and began rescue operations.
With the seas running 6 to 8 feet and the waves continually washing over the 360-foot-long deck of the Greeneville, Griffiths said Waddle wisely chose not to try to bring any of the surviving 26 crew members and students aboard.
Even before he could stabilize the submarine and drain the remaining water from its ballast tanks, Waddle manned the bridge atop the sail of the submarine.
"At the same time, he moved the 16 guests to the crew's mess from the control room and then down another level to the torpedo room because he was rigging the crew's mess to be a first-aid station."
Griffiths said Waddle then had four swimmers prepared to rescue survivors, and rigged a Jacob's ladder down the port side of the sail from the bridge. However, "It would have been next to impossible for an injured person to make it up the ladder," Griffiths said, noting it was swinging back and forth.
And any attempt to remove survivors from the rafts might have been disastrous. "The mere act of the raft coming up to the submarine could have flipped it over by bumping into the hull," Griffiths said.
From the bridge, Waddle and the engineering officer tried to determine if there were any survivors in the water, Griffiths said, but they did not see anyone. Other officers used the periscopes to monitor the people in the rafts.
Griffiths said the Greeneville tried to communicate with the survivors, but "there was a sizable language barrier." So the Greeneville had to depend on visual clues. "They tried to judge from their facial expressions and body language if anyone was in distress," Griffiths said.
He commended Waddle and the crew's actions, saying the decision not to put swimmers in the water was prudent since they knew the Coast Guard was on the way and the water was fairly warm.
Griffiths has recommended the Navy evaluate the limited rescue abilities of its nuclear submarines. He said the Greeneville had only two life rafts, individual life vests for the crew, life rings, first-aid kits, a ladder, tethers and four qualified swimmers.
"If we had been 1,000 miles from land and a Greeneville crew member had gone overboard, or if the submarine had stumbled onto a disaster, I'm not sure how we would solve that problem."
The Greeneville remained in the area and helped search for survivors overnight, leaving the area at about 10 a.m. the next day.
After listening to Griffiths' testimony, Nakata said he understands the Greeneville did not have rescue equipment and that he has "to accept that and move forward."